DramaWatch Weekly

DramaWatch Weekly: A Dickensian Nor’wester and scattered Revels

ArtsWatch forecasts this week's holiday theater weather.

This weather, huh? What’s the forecast for this weekend and beyond?

A.L. Adams

To the southwest, there’ll be scattered Revels, with peak conditions for viewing Nordic Lights, and some precipitation rolling in from the Mediterranean will leave conditions Pericles Wet, while a family drama high pressure front builds up between Morrison and Alder. A Dickensian chill will sweep along the east river bank, building into a twister as it crosses into Northwest and breaking into gales of wry laughter as it heads for the Hils. It will miss Tigard altogether, which will experience mild enough conditions to continue its Holiday Parade already under way. Meanwhile, the Northeast will experience bursts of gospel, and as you head toward Columbia, be on the lookout for flaming radicals.

Dickensian drama is blowing in with the return of Portland Playhouse’s popular “A Christmas Carol” (above), Scott Palmer’s “Charles Dickens Writes ‘A Christmas Carol'” at Bag & Baggage in Hillsboro, Second City’s “Twist Your Dickens” at The Armory, and Phillip J. Berns’s “A Christmas Carol: A One Man Ghost Story.” Photo: Portland Playhouse

As you head Southeast, expect some choppy seas, and an abrupt shift as Utopia closes at Hand2Mouth and a dystopia opens at Theatre Vertigo: Victor Mack will direct José Rivera’s Marisol, a near-contemporary of Angels in America with some similar motifs—mental illness and spiritual warfare between angelic beings—along with some surprisingly ripped-from-current-headlines themes—namely, the struggle of a Puerto Rican woman against an unjust god who is dying and “taking the rest of the universe with him.” Also the frenzied desperation of an urban hellscape where citizens driven into homelessness by debt and personal injury gnash and wail in the streets.

Langston Hughes’s “Black Nativity”: a shining star. PassinArt photo/2016

Happy holidays, y’all. Jacob Marley left a message; something about “mankind being our business?” He said he’ll try again—repeatedly throughout our city, then at Vertigo on Christmas week, when Phillip Berns reprises his solo version of the classic.

Imago’s’classic “Frogz” leaps back into the swim. Photo: Imago Theatre

But what were we talking about? Oh yes. The weather. Northwest Children’s Theater will experience spells of magic, to subside by midnight. And tell the kids next weekend’s conditions should be ideal for watching FROGZ. Til then, stay warm, from hands to heart.

What are you up to this week? Any family coming to town? What do you eat and not eat these days? And what theater might you and your familial crew wish to see?

At The Armory this weekend, Mojada closes and the holiday spirit gets crackling between A Christmas Memory and Winter Song, a double header that would seem the sentimental alternative to the barn-burning Scrooge-buster Twist Your Dickens. A Christmas Memory revives a Truman Capote short story about a young boy with an unlikely best friend, an elderly female cousin who matches his emotional maturity and assists him in his games and schemes, including their darling caper of secretly making presents for their other relatives. (Say it with me: “Awwwwwww!”)

“Winter Song” at The Armory: Mont Chris Hubbard (left), Merideth Kaye Clark, and Leif Norby. Photo: Patrick Weishampel/blankeye, courtesy Portland Center Stage at The Armory

Winter Song is a warmhearted holiday song revue performed by Portland’s premier Joni Mitchell cover artist Meredith Kaye Clarke (Snuggle in and go “Ahhhh.”) This show gets a head start on Dickens, but once both get going, ushers might as well leave signs in the lobby to sort attendees: “Humbugs, main house; saps downstairs.”

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DramaWatch Weekly: on ’til November

Im Portland theater it's a week of the Rooster, The Events, seasonal cosplay, and some houseplants for Hand2Mouth

Has it occurred to you that Halloween is the only time of year when regular people moonlight as actors?

A.L. Adams

And all the more so since character cosplay has engulfed general-category costumes. Instead of “a zombie,” or “a pirate,” more and more people seem to dress as “this zombie” or “that pirate” from some show or movie, leaving them oddly depicting a mix of the character they’re being, the actor who famously plays the character, and themselves. And just like that, your Halloween party spread is transformed into craft services on a Hollywood set, with Captain Johnny-Jack Depp-Sparrow, who is actually Kevin from work, scarfing all of your Doritos. How meta.

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DramaWatch Weekly: Rumor has it

Day of the Dead, day of the cabaret, day of the All Jane Comedy Festival (plus another episode of YouTubinator)

Is Milagro Theatre downsizing, moving or closing?

A.L. Adams

Nope, says Producing Creative Director Roy Antonio Arauz, but he can see why people are asking. While their annex space, El Zocalo, has been undergoing accessibility upgrades, their boarded-up front windows have been beset by spraypaint and wayward fliers, making them deceptively appear shut-down.

But don’t fret! Portland’s longest-running Latino theater is gearing up as usual for its annual highlight: a Dia de Muertos play that always wraps a new theme around the sacred and sensorially rich traditions of the fall holiday. It opens next week and continues through mid November. ‘Til then, ignore the unfortunate window dressing.

“Exodo,” Milagro Theatre’s 22nd annual Day of the Dead spectacular, opens Oct. 20. Photo: Russell J Young

Here in the ArtsWatch theater department, further rumors abound: that (according to Bobby Bermea) Shaking the Tree’s Samantha Van Der Merwe is a magician, that (via TJ Acena) Artists Rep’s trying to mess with our minds. According to Deann Welker, Lost in Midair is the real deal, and if you ask Bob Hicks, the Portland Civic Theatre Guild has had a lot going on for a long time. Read all about it.

Oh! And even though I missed season 1, I heard Season 2 of Joel Patrick Durham’s horror serial Nesting: Vacancy might be worth looking into. Who was saying that? Oh, right: its actors. Well, maybe they would know. Here at ArtsWatch, Hailey Bachrach is vouching.

Lakewood Theatre’s Cabaret  closes this weekend, looking clean and cheesy in counterpoint to this summer’s Broadway Portland offering, which felt credibly dark and sleazy. (How much realness do you want from strippers and Nazis? It’s negotiable.) One thing fans of this musical ought to stop not knowing, is that downtown Portland has a real-life Kit Kat Club. Mere blocks from the Keller, its existence recently rendered Broadway Portland’s poetic PR pitch “We welcome you to the Kit Kat Club…” downright confusing to high/low arts amphibians like me. Hedging my bets, I attended both events, finding surprising similarities: Each Kit Kat had a glittery, mischievous emcee; each featured winky burlesque and wobbling flesh. In each, the writer was quickly befriended by a sly businessman with a hidden agenda. But at only one of the parallel Kit Kats did I witness dancers doing carnival strongman feats, including The Bed of Nails and The Crushing of One’s Fingers under a Tin Can—and believe it or not, that was on the small stage. All of which is to say: Cabaret the musical closes this weekend at Lakewood, probably sans can-crushing but with plenty of satiny pizazz. Cabaret the concept continues, probably forever.

Now let’s be naughty and play the little game we love, but PR people so often hate: Let’s YouTube search some more performers! In my experience, comedians are the most cool with that anyway, and luckily, this weekend dozens are coming. I’ll race you to the YouTubinator!

First up, searching Amber Ruffin yields a deep trove of video treasure. As a staff writer on Late Night with Seth Meyers she frequently appears in recurring bits like “Amber Says What,” “Amber’s Minute of Fury,” and “Jokes Seth Can’t Tell.” Here she is recapping the 2016 Olympics in a single word, and here she is flipping her wig in defense of a congresswoman.  And just watch the next twenty or so clips that come up. I did.

Well, shoot. If we do this for all 48 acts from All Jane Comedy Festival, we’ll be at it until it’s over. Just go to these shows. They start tonight.

Laura Sams candidly takes one of 48 slots at the All Jane Comedy Festival Oct. 11-15.

 

 

 

 

DramaWatch Weekly: Puzzles and Cults

From "Caught" to Reverend Billy to storytelling to "Chalk Circle" to readings and "You in Midair," a weekful of openings

Happy glacially gradual onset of fall. Let’s talk theatre … er, theater.

A.L. Adams

Here at ArtsWatch, some new reviews are in.

Bob Hicks is smitten with Every Brilliant Thing and Matthew Andrews seems impressed by Fun Home, putting the Armory 2-for-2.

Artists Rep’s An Octoroon, which closed last weekend, left Maria Choban in metaphorical therapy, and NWCT’s Starlings delighted DeAnn Welker. Onward.

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Artists Rep is prepared to ensnare you with Caught, a “sly philosophical puzzle” presented as a multimedia work with both gallery installation and performance components. I wonder if the growing popularity of “escape rooms” is conversant with this kind of theater. I also wonder how the habituation of video game play informs the escape rooms that may or may not have tripped the wire on a seeming explosion of this type of theater. Discuss.

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Reverend Billy drops in at Boom Arts to revive us again.

Here’s another puzzler: why does “protest” within performance art get so much more respect than protest on the street? Sure, sometimes it’s a quality standard, but many street protest efforts also pass artistic muster. From the businessman-satirizing Yes Men, to these butoh-esque “zombies” in Hamburg, to these stoic Michiganders sitting in grim solidarity with oil-soaked birds, performative protestors who bring fringe-fest-worthy confrontations to the public sphere deserve a little more applause. In this mood, Boom Arts brings performance protest figurehead Reverend Billy to The Old Church this weekend. The Reverend, who’s been dramatically preaching the gospel of “Stop Shopping” for many years—often to hostile audiences during direct action—has earned a weekend preaching to the choir. Additional ways to find religion this week include the opening of a ritualistic-looking Caucasian Chalk Circle at Shaking the Tree, and Siren Theater storytelling showcase Cult Status. (Rumor has it they’ll be serving actual Kool-Aid.)

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Correct me if I’m wrong: a staged reading is to a play what a book is to a movie. While the latter is already chock full of multi-sensory material, the former leaves more space for your own imagination. This month, Portland Playhouse’s Fall Reading Series mixes it up with three contemporary plays at various locations from Sellwood to NW. In the hands of this stah-rong batch of actors, I bet those scripts will sing. Can I say they’re by female playwrights as a “by the way”? And someday can female playwrights be so prevalent that no point need be made?

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And finally, here’s a hard one. With no joy in the pun, I call “trigger warning” on a show about a 1980s celebrity murder presented by the mother of the deceased. In You in Midair, Danna Schaeffer grapples with the 1989 death of her daughter Rebecca Schaeffer, a star of the sitcom My Sister Sam, on her front porch at the hands of a deranged gunman. Seekers of catharsis and context on this particular week may find it here.

 


 

Look for A.L. Adams’ DramaWatch Weekly every Tuesday.

DramaWatch Weekly: A test, a lull, lean prose

On Portland stages, it's a week for "Fun Home," Raymond Carver, catching up with "An Octoroon," and checking the horizon

Let there be more than one female character.

Let them talk to each other.

Let them have a conversation that’s less than 100 percent about men.

A.L. Adams

That’s The Bechdel Test, a set of guidelines Graphic Novelist Alison Bechdel sensibly suggested in 1985 as a way to vet narratives for basic fairness. In my theater reviews, I’ve used it—not because it’s a buzzword, I could give a rip—but because when I find myself already bothered by a 2-D plot, applying this test gives me an impartial reason why. #notallmen. See what I did there? Never mind.

Here’s something extraordinary: Alison Bechdel has an autobiographical musical, Fun Home.

What’s more, it’s won a Tony, and I bet it passes the Test. It opens this week at Portland Center Stage at The Armory.

Aida Valentine (left), Karsten George (center), and Theo Curl in “Fun Home.” Photo: Patrick Weishampel/blankeye.tv

Think-piece brinksmen on Bechdel’s level, those whose theories have become common knowledge, rarely produce their own art. Malcolm Gladwell, for instance, rode “The Tipping Point” to the edge, but not to Broadway. Richard Florida, who championed and later renounced “The Creative Class,” never made a musical about it (arguably, The Music Man scooped him). Yet here comes Alison Bechdel—the mind behind the pen that’s pinpointed exactly what was wrong with so many others’ stories—striding into the spotlight* to answer a dare critics-who-are-also-artists hear daily: “Let’s see you try it.”

Okay. Bam. Tony.

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DramaWatch Weekly: Out there, the drama is real

From the news to the stage, A.L. Adams' new column gives the lowdown on a week's worth of action on the Portland theater scene

Holy moly, is this week huge! Here we are in the throes of most theaters’ season kickoff with much too much to cover—not to mention TBA. (Just kidding; of course I’ll also mention TBA.)

A.L. Adams

In local season opening news, PHAME’s got a new executive director, Action/Adventure Theater has closed its doors after an epic five-year run, and Readers Theatre Rep just raised their ticket price to a whole $10 (still worth every penny, I’m sure; they’ll read two Arthur Miller plays this weekend).

How about national news? Anything major? Sometimes (actually, constantly) I look at what themes are playing out on Portland stages and think about how much they resonate with real-life events that are actually happening. If I may:

 


 

The Drama Is Real: Shows that hit a nerve with current news

In the news: Last Tuesday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced a repeal of DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that offers protected status to undocumented persons who’ve lived in the US since their childhood. Meanwhile, onstage: Last weekend, Ingenio Milagro, a Milagro Theatre’s playwright development symposium similar to Portland Center Stage’s JAW festival, presented four scripts including Monica Sanchez’s Los Dreamers, the story of “Dreamer” Scoobi.

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In the news: The Oregon Bach Festival is reeling over international backlash after firing their artistic director Matthew Halls in response to an incident one might call “Grit Gate.” The Telegraph reports that Halls was overheard joking with his friend, African-American singer Reginald Mobely, and had made a quip about grits while mimicking a southern accent. Though both Mobely and Halls maintain that the joke was about the South generally rather than a Black stereotype, a white woman who overheard the remark complained to University of Oregon leadership, who summarily relieved Halls of his post. With press outlets in Halls’ native England picking up the story, Grit-Gate seems to have grown into an international incident. Meanwhile, onstage: Hillsboro’s Bag&Baggage opened its season last weekend (in a new space) with Rebecca Gilman’s Spinning into Butter, a drama wherein an African American student at a primarily white college receives hate mail and the school’s administration struggles to react appropriately, arguably making things worse.

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In the news: Hillary Clinton has just released what is sure to be a polarizing book, What Happened, asking exactly that of her 2016 presidential campaign and taking belated jabs at her opponents left and right. Meanwhile, onstage: Hillary Clinton, of all people, will visit Portland on December 12. See Portland’5 for details.

 


 

Mister Theater: feet off the furniture, kid.

Out There: Shows for explorers

Sweep The Leg: A Karate Kid Musical Parody is happening at Mister Theater, which I didn’t even know was a thing. From the address, it looks like Mister is a neighbor of beloved life-drawing lair Hipbone Studios and belly dance hot spot Studio Datura. (I’m sure it means Mister like “man,” but with this heat persisting into next week and these actors karate-kicking up a sweat, the other kind of “mister” couldn’t miss.) 

Back Fence PDX This storytelling showcase regularly presents a solid roster of raconteurs, and this installment includes “Portland’s Funniest Person 2017” Caitlyn Weierhauser, aptly-named web series star Ben Weber, sketch comedy specialist Andrew Harris, cultural competency consultant Bealleka, and retro glam cult novelist Jennifer Robin.

Under The Influence: All Trumped Up Ernie Liloj must be “tired of winning.” After his original musical Under The Influence earned two Drammies in 2015 (Best Original Score and Best Actor in a Musical) he seems to have asked, “What would really put this over the top?” What puts anything over the top? A dollop of Trump, of course. A cast that includes two alums of Post5’s legendary clown shows, Ithica Tell and Jessica Tidd, should feel right at home at the Funhouse Lounge, a venue complete with a themed “clown room.”

 


 

This week at TBA

 Now onward to PICA TBA:17 (Portland Institute for Contemporary Art’s Time-Based Art Festival), whose program I’ve perused and—just as my ArtsWatch colleague Jamuna Chiarini did for dance—I’ve plucked all of the remaining theater works from the schedule and linked them here for your ease. Less easy for me, and I’ll tell you why: this calendar is chockfull of crossover acts, most especially performance artists who infuse their theatrical pieces with varying amounts of original music.

 Are such shows concerts, or are they theater? Yes.

Will all performance artists be required to write their own music from now on? I hope so. Discuss.

 TBA performances this week include several appearances by Saudi artist Sarah Abuabdallah, three Sigourney Weaver Jam Sessions by Manuel Solano, an evening with singer/monologuist Joseph Keckler, the pop song/deadpan storytelling pairing of Half Straddle‘s Ghost Rings, Cvllejerx throwing a Super Tantrum, and the “psychoacoustic” thralls of Sound et Al.

My must-see is longtime Portland music scene fixture Holland Andrews (of Like a Villain, Aan, and Samadams), who, having lately completed an artist residency in Paris, will present collaborative work with Alain Mahé that interprets Dorothée Munyaneza’s interviews of Rawandan rape survivors following the country’s 1994 genocide. Obviously something to scream about, but also worth getting further context from a follow-up conversation; Sunday’s show will be followed by a talkback. For more femme-empowered protest music, check out Retribution, Tanya Tagaq‘s “howling protest” in defense of indigenous and human rights, or party your catharsis out with Demian Dineyazhi‘s Death Dance, a brown/indigenous punk statement that doubles as a “sweaty celebration.”

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Whew! That’s all the drama I have for this week. Hand me my mister.

 


 

With this column, the sharp-witted and sharp-eyed A.L. Adams begins her weekly look at what’s happening on Portland’s theater stages. Look for DramaWatch Weekly every Tuesday.

 

 

 

 

 

 
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